Genetics road map to develop more resilient farmed fish

New research to create more resilient fish with characteristics such as disease resistance and more effective feed utilization.

World experts gathered at The Roslin Institute in Scotland for a two-day workshop organized by WorldFish to help shape the future of selective breeding and genetic improvement in tilapia.

Based on a road map developed at the Roslin workshop, WorldFish will embark on new research to create more resilient fish with characteristics such as disease resistance and more effective feed utilization. The research will use advanced techniques such as genomic selection to introduce these characteristics into its improved tilapia strains.

WorldFish is an international, nonprofit research organization that harnesses the potential of fisheries and aquaculture to reduce hunger and poverty. Since 1988, it has used selective breeding to develop and manage the fast-growing "Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia" (GIFT) strain. The strain has been disseminated to at least 16 countries, mostly in the developing world, and is grown by millions of small-scale fish farmers for food, income and nutrition across the world.

Tools that enable the selection of animals based on genetic markers will allow for the selection of characteristics that are otherwise difficult to measure, such as resilience and feed efficiency. Genomic selection has enabled a step change in the rate of genetic improvement of terrestrial livestock and has the potential to do the same in fish.

WorldFish Sustainable Aquaculture program leader John Benzie said, “Incorporating new genetic traits in GIFT will help fish farmers prepare for future challenges such as climate change and increasing evidence of disease risks. This will particularly benefit farmers in Africa and Asia, where tilapia is critical for food security, yet farmers often have limited access to improved fish breeds suited to local conditions.”

Ross Houston, group leader at The Roslin Institute, added, “Aquaculture production needs to increase by 40% by 2030 to meet global demands for fish. Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is arguably the world’s most important food fish and plays a key role in tackling rural poverty in developing countries. The innovations in genetic improvement mapped out in this workshop are an important step toward achieving these ambitious goals.”

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